On Friday, though, the Mountaineers turned in an encore performance of last week's Big East semi-finals loss to Syracuse. Just as it did against the Orange, West Virginia came out with very little enthusiasm. And just as SU had done, Dayton made the most of it.
The Flyers built a lead as large as nine points in the first half as WVU played lethargically on offense and had several uncharacteristic lapses on defense. West Virginia led just once – 3-2 – and trailed for the final 38:40 of the game to cement the unceremonious exit.
Dayton was led by forward Chris Wright, who torched the Mountaineers for 27 points and 10 rebounds. Seemingly every time that West Virginia made a move to pull closer, Wright made a play of his own to hold serve for the Flyers. No play was bigger than his uncontested dunk to put the Flyers up five with 3:45 to play.
"Chris played very, very well today," said UD head coach Brian Gregory. "I think he had three turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game and he didn't have another one for the rest of the game. He really calmed down and played with the poise that we need him to play with."
"He played great," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. "We knew he was capable of doing it. I've watched Chris play for a lot of years. He's a very, very talented guy and he made shots. He doesn't always make shots and he made perimeter shots today, which makes him even harder to guard."
While Wright was the star, he certainly wasn't a one-man show. Charles Little, averaging just over eight points per game entering Friday, finished with 18 points, 12 of which came in the second half to keep the Mountaineers at arm's length.
"Little made shots, hard shots as well," said Huggins. "He made some shots over the top of us and at the end of the game when they needed baskets to kind of stop the bleeding for them (Little made shots). That's what you want your upperclassmen to do, to step up and make shots like that."
WVU battled valiantly in the second half, cutting the lead to one on several occasions. Each time it did, though, Dayton followed with another basket and a key defensive stop.
"You can't give up baskets and score and then give up more baskets and score," said Da'Sean Butler. "It just kept going back and forth a lot and we didn't have as many stops as we needed to have to pull the game out."
"We just could not get over that hump," said senior guard Alex Ruoff. "I had the chance to tie it with two free throws and couldn't do it, I missed them both. Da'Sean had a three and we had a couple of good looks. We needed just a couple of stops, and we couldn't get them. We couldn't get over that hump."
Ruoff's career ended in sour fashion. The Spring Hill, Fla., native battled foul trouble for much of the night, and fouled out for good with 1:50 remaining. Ruoff finished with nine points on four-of-11 shooting.
Normally when Ruoff is cold, Butler picks up the slack. Against the Flyers, though, his night was every bit as frustrating as Ruoff's. Butler finished with more turnovers (five) than he did made shots (four-of-13).
Meanwhile, Little and Wright carried Dayton.
"Like coach said, their studs stepped up at the end; ours didn't," said Ruoff, fighting back tears. "You can put the blame on us."
In the days since the bracket was first revealed, Huggins and West Virginia's players spoke of Dayton's aggressiveness on both ends of the court and relentless effort from beginning to end. The Flyers showed as much from the opening tip on Friday. West Virginia did not.
"We don't back down," said Gregory. "That doesn't always mean we play well. There is a difference. There are times when we don't play well, but we never back down.
"The one thing we just kept talking about in timeouts was to just be who we are," he continued. "You know, we don't have to be anybody different. We need to defend, we need to rebound and we need to run when we get the opportunity. We didn't need a Superman effort from anybody. It was nice to get a couple of them, you know, but we just needed to do what we do."
By comparison, the Mountaineers did not do what they needed to do. As a result, they are heading home on the tournament's opening weekend for the first time in 17 years.